2012 - %3, August

Yes We LAN

| Sun Sep. 30, 2012 1:25 AM PDT

What do our wifi networks tell us about President Obama's chances in November? The folks at OpenSignalMaps, which maintains a web database of cellphone signal strengths and wifi access points, have mapped more than 1,100 routers worldwide with "Obama" in their names. Rigorous polling it ain't, but they figure "ObamaIsBlackNazi" won't be voting Democratic in 2012, while "BahamaMamasLoveObamasLlamas" just might. ("Obamatheflykiller" is a toss-up.) In the States, it's a tight race, with 401 Obama-lovin' routers to 355 haters—a mere 6 percent edge for the prez. But lest Democrats worry, hardly anyone cares enough about Mitt Romney to name a network after him.

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"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: Clint Eastwood, the GOP, and Shia LaBeouf Nakedness

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 11:32 AM PDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa and Swin, we discuss (scroll down for the audio):

  • Totally Biased, FX's racially charged news/comedy series hosted by comedian W. Kamau Bell (click here to check out an interview with Bell). Alyssa had visited the set in New York over the weekend, and shared her thoughts on the show's potential.
  • Clint Eastwood, his politics, his movies, and his (then) upcoming address to the 2012 Republican National Convention (click here for the transcript and video of Eastwood's bizarre "Invisible Obama" speech, which apparently upset Paul Ryan).
  • Lawless, a new Western set in Virginia gangland during Prohibition, starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Guy Pearce (my review here). It's during this part of the conversation that we spend far too much time discussing LaBeouf's dorky nakedness.
  • The first season finale of Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama The Newsroom (and why the series still frustrates us so).

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thanks for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

How Our Digital Newsroom Uses Google’s Chart Tools

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 8:15 AM PDT

Here at Mother Jones, our reporters, editors, and army of fact-checkers hoard more troves of chart-tastic data than our 2.5-person interactive team can keep up with. We love quality charts and take great pride in those we've produced before—our visualizations of income inequality from March 2011 are still in our all-time biggest traffic items. But our booming daily content calls for a charting method that allows for faster, easier collaboration across the newsroom, and our go-to solutions—Illustrator and Excel—don't always cut it.

So in June, our interactive editor Tasneem Raja asked me to dig into Google's Chart Tools API. Two nice things about this approach: first, our reporters and editors already know and love Google Doc's collaborative editing features. And second, since Chart Tools can hook into a Google spreadsheet, a reporter can easily update a chart visualization themselves by simply changing the data in the underlying spreadsheet. The API also comes with a suite of configuration options that allows you to customize your chart's font, colors, and dimensions to better match your existing site styles (to an extent—more on that later).

Here's how we got it working for us.

After some preliminary Googling, I found a Google bar chart example that used the Fusion Table API, and, even better, included some sample code. As you can see below, the chart mostly runs on JavaScript, pulling data from a Fusion Table and applying some basic queries and layout.

<html> <head>
   
<meta charset="UTF-8">

   
<title>Fusion Tables API Example: Google Chart Tools Bar Chart</title>

   
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://www.google.com/jsapi"></script>
   
<script type="text/javascript">
      google
.load('visualization', '1', { packages: ['corechart'] });

     
function drawVisualization() {
        google
.visualization.drawChart({
          containerId
: 'visualization',
          dataSourceUrl
: 'http://www.google.com/fusiontables/gvizdata?tq=',
          query
: 'SELECT Year, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece FROM 18k8XNgsc5ktLP2EHMCpoKIwymsVlzVV-xVuceA',
          chartType
: 'BarChart',
          options
: {
            title
: 'Yearly Coffee Consumption by Country',
            vAxis
: {
              title
: 'Year'
           
},
            hAxis
: {
              title
: 'Cups'
           
}
         
}
       
});
     
}

      google
.setOnLoadCallback(drawVisualization);
   
</script>
 
</head>
 
<body>
   
<div id="visualization"></div>
 
</body> </html>

Gay Marriage Seed Art at the Minnesota State Fair

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 8:12 AM PDT

There's lots to see and do here at the Minnesota State Fair. And most importantly, eat: It's before noon, and already I've sampled the (allegedly) world's smoothest ice cream, a Norwegian delicacy called potato lefse, and a mini donut. But the coolest thing I've seen so far is tucked away in a small room in the agriculture building: seed art. Minnesotans have painstakingly employed a variety of common seeds—flax, lentils, poppy, adzuki, millet, and sunflower, to name just a few—to create incredibly detailed artistic masterpieces. The themes are many: cute animals, aphorisms, and affirmations of Minnesota pride abound. A bunch have political messages; this November there are two controversial measures on Minnesota's ballot: a gay marriage ban and a voter identification requirement. Here are some of the ways that fair entrants expressed their opinions on these matters:

And here's a detail:

"Lawless": Prohibition-Era Gangsters Go Full-On Western

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 11:50 AM PDT

Lawless
The Weinstein Company
110 minutes

There's a movie out in theaters right now that stars Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. Tom Hardy puts on a funny accent. There's lots of killing throughout, and a quest for revenge and redemption.

It's not The Dark Knight Rises.

The film is called Lawless. It competed for the Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and is co-produced by Sean "Diddy/P. Diddy/Puff Daddy" Combs' new company, Revolt Films. It's also a bruisingly gorgeous gangster flick, with unexpected tenderness and shoot-'em-up verve.

Lawless is the second collaboration between Aussie director John Hillcoat (The Road) and equally Aussie screenwriter Nick Cave (yes, that Nick Cave), the first being 2005's excellent The Proposition. Just as The Proposition transposed the more unforgiving aspects of the American Western to the colonial Australian outback, Lawless filters the genre's style and aesthetic through Prohibition-era gangland.

Cave's script is deftly adapted from Matt Bondurant's The Wettest County in the World, a novel inspired by the true story of the Bondurant family's bootlegger brothers in rural Franklin County, Virginia. Forrest (Hardy) is the tough-as-nails ringleader. Howard (Jason Clarke) is the brawn-over-brains enforcer. And Jack (Shia LaBeouf) is the youngest of the trio—the one with the least experience in killing and maiming, and the most to prove. The boys are legendary around town for the rumors and myth of their "invincibility."

What's Next for Pussy Riot?

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 2:12 PM PDT

So, maybe Pussy Riot's guilty verdicts and grim sentences to two years in a penal colony didn't come as too much of a surprise. It's kind of what you get when the court bars multiple defense witnesses from testifying, enlists experts to diagnose all three women with personality disorders, and considers the testimonies of those deeply offended by the band's "punk prayer" at Christ the Savior Cathedral after having only watched the event on Youtube. (For full background on the case, see our explainer.)

Alisa Obraztsova, a legal assistant on the defense team and Pussy Riot's copyright and intellectual property lawyer, told Mother Jones that the riot grrrls might have gotten harsher punishments if it weren't for the international attention on their case. The question that remains is whether Pussy Riot's lawyers will be able to appeal the conviction, and in a relevant time frame. Even worse, according to the defense team, is that the grueling penal colony conditions could result in injury or death for the three women.

The first step for Pussy Riot’s defense was to file an appeal to a higher court, as their lawyers did on Monday. Obraztsova says that this could result in the sentence being softened, maybe by half a year. Vladimir Lukin, Russia's Putin-appointed human rights ombudsman, has also publicly supported a decreased sentence. "We expect [a lesser sentence], but we are not sure," Obraztsova said. "You can never be sure in Russia. This is a totally political case."

"You do not ask pardon from someone who is doing this to your family, who is trying to break you," Obraztsova says. "They tell him to go to hell."

Obraztsova refers to the case as "telephone justice"—the kind in which decisions, irrespective of criminal code, are phoned in from Putin and his elite.

"There's every ground to believe that the ruling (two year sentence) as well as the following decisions are not reached in the courthouse," notes Maria Lipman, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Moscow Center. Lipman cites another recent political trial, the second of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as one in which the ruling was delivered by higher-ups. In 2011, the judge's assistant on the case admitted in an interview that Khodorkovsky's guilty verdict wasn't written by the judge.

"From levying exorbitant fines to signing laws that crack down on public meetings, there's a large wave of repression going on in Russia," says Alex Edwards, a spokesperson for Amnesty International USA, which has demanded the immediate relase of the Pussy Riot prisoners. "It doesn't start and it doesn't stop with Pussy Riot," he added. "It's a systematic crackdown."

If Putin and his courts don't see it fit to lessen the women's sentence (they've already served six months of it in pre-trial detention), the defense team has vowed to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. But the problem there is two-fold: First, it could take two to three years for the case even to be heard—well after the women will have been shipped to penal colonies. Secondly, it's probable, notes Lipman, that the ECHR would just fine the Kremlin for the offense while the women remained in prison.

As for what happens in the penal colonies, Pussy Riot's lawyers feel it could be a matter of life or death. Obraztsova explains that it's likely the women would be split up among several prison camps, where they would stay in 100-person barracks with women convicted for murder, or other dangerous felonies. Then there's religious and anti-Pussy Riot fervor to consider. "A man was raped [with] a bottle of champagne in a police office," Obraztsova says, referencing the gruesome case from March in which a 52-year-old man died after being detained by Russian police. "What can we expect from the penal colony?"

Still, Pussy Riot won't be asking for Putin's pardon, and the defense team told Mother Jones that even Nadia Tolokonnikova's four-year-old daughter, Gera, doesn't cede to the Russian president; when asked who put her mother behind bars, she answers "Putin." When asked who Putin is, she replies simply that he's "a bad man."

Obraztsova puts it another way. "You do not ask pardon from someone who is doing this to your family, who is trying to break you," she says. "They tell him to go to hell."

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Ann Romney and the Subversive Conservatism of ABC's 'Modern Family'

| Wed Aug. 29, 2012 1:48 PM PDT
Actors Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who play Modern Family's Cameron and Mitchell, at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner in 2010.

Would-be First Lady Ann Romney's favorite television show is ABC's Modern Family, a relatively tame sitcom that features three related couples raising children. One of these couples, Cameron and Mitchell, happens to be a cohabitating same-sex couple with an adopted daughter. The Republican Platform for 2012 calls for a constitutional amendment that, in the real world, would forbid the government from legally recognizing relationships like the one Cameron and Mitchell have.

The irony was not lost on the show's co-creator, Steven Levitan, who offered Mrs. Romney a role on the show. "We’ll offer her the role of officiate at Mitch & Cam's wedding. As soon as it's legal," he wrote on Twitter. Naturally, if Mrs. Romney's husband has his way, this will never happen. Mitt Romney is not merely opposed to same-sex marriage, but legal recognition of same-sex couples of any kind.

Ann Romney however, is not alone in her fondness for the show. A 2010 survey found that Modern Family ranks as Republicans' third favorite show on television

This might seem strange, were it not for the fact that the great irony of Modern Family is that its view of "family" is tremendously conservative and traditional. There are three couples on the show: The aforementioned Mitchell and Cameron, Mitchell's sister Claire and her husband Phil, and Claire and Mitchell's father Jay and his second wife Gloria. Each of these couples features a (male) breadwinner and a stay-at-home parent whose primary responsibility is to the children. Despite their superficial differences—the noticable age and aesthetic differences between Jay (Married with Children's Ed O'Neill) and Gloria (Sofia Vergara), the fact that Mitchell and Cameron are men—the vision of family on the show is one that hews very closely to what conservatives like to call the "traditional family." The show has also been very restrained in its portrayal of Mitchell and Cameron's relationship—they did not so much as kiss until the second season. The show's subject matter is also pretty vanilla—couples' weird foibles, kids do the darndest things and so forth—with the few bawdy jokes usually being too complicated for anyone who isn't an adult to pick up on. 

Modern Family's traditionalism probably has much to do with why conservatives, including Ann Romney, like the show so much. It portrays a future in which the "modern family" exists within comforting, familiar framework.  The show is subversive in its conservatism, in its ability to make Republicans see themselves in a family arrangement that, to this day, they remain steadfastly opposed. Eventually, these Republicans will come to recognize the contradiction between their affinity for these characters on television and their opposition to equal rights for their real life counterparts. 

This is how culture wars are won. 

 

Click here for more TV and movie features from Mother Jones.

Divine Fits' Britt Daniel is "93.5 Percent Rock and Roll"

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 3:06 AM PDT
Britt Daniel, Sam Brown, and Dan Boeckner of Divine Fits.

I remember the first time I saw Spoon. I was 15 years-old and standing—well, somewhere between sandwiched and flailing—in the front row at their show in my hometown. Britt Daniel, with his Texas drawl, throaty wails, and lanky rock-and-roll radiance had, in that moment, become a god. "I was making eye contact with Britt Daniel," I boasted to my friend after the set. "Oh yeah? So was I," she said, her face flushed and proud.

I wanted to kill her.

Part of it was, sure, being 15. But the other memorable factor, the one that stuck, was experiencing that classic front man element, the Jaggeresque confidence and swagger that few can pull off. Daniel, iconic for turning out cache after cache of howling, infectious Spoon songs since the mid-'90s, can pull it off, and does so with finesse—as does guitarist and vocalist Dan Boeckner, formerly known as one of the main songwriters behind Canada's Wolf Parade and, more recently, the Handsome Furs. So when Daniel and Boeckner announced that they were forming a band called Divine Fits with New Bomb Turks' Sam Brown earlier this year, it was no surprise that the blogosphere immediately blessed them with "supergroup" status.

On the eve of the release of their debut album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, I spoke with Daniel about the band names they rejected, that one Pixies show that's stuck with him since college, and how this lineup liberates him as a musician.

Mother Jones: Dan once said in an interview that you became a fan of his after watching the Handsome Furs' "Dumb Animals" video. Why that video? And why'd you want to start a band with him?

Britt Daniel: For some reason it reminded me of something off of those dark Cure records—like records two, three, or four. So when I actually did meet him, I was just blown away by how friendly a guy he is. He's real outgoing, and came right up to me, and we just got along real well.

MJ: What do you guys bond over, other than music?

BD: [Laughs.] We both really like margaritas, and...okay, other than music, we both seem to really like Middle Eastern food. Okay, other than food and drink: tight pants.

Review: "Come Back" by Teen

| Mon Aug. 27, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

TRACK 2

"Come Back"

From Teen's In Limbo

CARPARK

Liner notes: "I've held too many hands/I've drawn too many blinds," murmurs Teeny Lieberson, as jittery beats and backing voices reveal growing anxiety on this garage rock-electronica hybrid.

Behind the music: This Brooklyn foursome is led by former Here We Go Magic keyboardist Lieberson and includes her sisters, Lizzie and Katherine, who recorded this haunting debut in a rural Connecticut barn with producer Pete Kember (Panda Bear, MGMT), a.k.a. Sonic Boom.

Check it out if you like: Frankie Rose and the Outs, Grimes, and Suicide.


Click here for more music features from Mother Jones.

Podcast: "A Movie & An Argument"—Tony Scott Memorial Edition

| Fri Aug. 24, 2012 6:05 AM PDT

This marks the second episode of our new podcast: A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa and Swin.

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Below, you'll find the audio for this week's episode, in which we discuss:

  • The life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott and trailblazing comedienne Phyllis Diller, both of whom died earlier this week (my joint obituary can be found here, and Alyssa's obit for Scott is here).
  • The phone-sex-related comedy For a Good Time, Call... (a film Alyssa thoroughly endorses), which stars Ari Graynor, Lauren Miller, Seth Rogen, Justin Long, and Nia Vardalos. It gets a limited release on August 31.
  • The monstrously awful Dax Shepard movie Hit and Run, which I say is currently running neck-and-neck with That's My Boy for title of Lousiest Film of 2012. (It also features perhaps the lamest prison-rape joke ever captured on camera.)
  • That new movie coming out in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt rides a bicycle for an hour-and-a-half.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thanks for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones.

To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To hear or download more episodes of this podcast, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.